Thursday, August 21, 2014

Toxic Algae Funds

Toxic Algae Funds
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced plans this week to provide $2 million to help Ohio farmers implement conservation techniques to improve Lake Erie water quality.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also partnering with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to expand capacity in the Lake Erie area and will contribute an additional $1 million in technical assistance.  "Many farmers have consistently stepped up to the plate on efforts to protect our water and we want to provide support and incentives for continued action," Secretary Vilsack said. "Along with these resources, we will be offering technical and financial assistance through our direct relationships with farmers, and by partnering with private and public groups on continuing conservation efforts in the Great Lakes basin."

The Ohio Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency within the USDA, is accepting applications from farmers in the Western Lake Erie Basin this week for a portion of the $2 million in Environmental Quality Incentive Program funds to help with the planting of cover crops, which help prevent soil and nutrient erosion in the next season.  The development follows Gov. John Kasich's announcement of a new funding for farmers to reduce agricultural runoff and to help cities protect drinking water supplies from toxic algae blooms that recently prompted Toledo to warn residents not to drink the water.

Last week, NRCS met with more than 100 farmers, agricultural groups and fertilizer dealers in Ohio to talk about the expertise USDA can offer and to publicize best conservation practices for the watershed.  "Farmers understand how recent events may impact them and are motivated to work with us to reduce phosphorus run-off, starting now with the planting of additional cover crops," NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. "We created this opportunity for farmers who want to get cover on their fields quickly, and we will continue to create complete nutrient management plans for long-term water quality and sustainability practices."  USDA has spent $46 million since 2009 on conservation efforts in the Lake Erie watershed. In May, Secretary Vilsack designated the Great Lakes Basin as a critical conservation area in the 2014 Farm Bill Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which will provide $1.2 billion for partnerships with non-federal entities, who are expected to match the federal investment.

Suzy Friedman, director of agricultural sustainability for the Environmental Defense Fund, applauded the new conservation funding.  "I hope that the additional funds can help farmers increase adoption of highly effective practices such as nutrient use efficiency, cover crops, reduced tillage, and strategic filtering practices that can capture nutrients before they reach Lake Erie," she said.  However, Ms. Friedman said preventing further toxic algae blooms, like the one that threatened Toledo's drinking water supply, will require longer term solutions and a strategically coordinated approach.  "In addition to helping address challenges in Lake Erie, USDA investment in highly effective conservation practices will help position farmers to meet the growing demand from food companies and retailers for sustainable products," she said. "By combining federal investment with the supply chain demand, we can reach a scale of adoption that will make crises like the one in Toledo a thing of the past."

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